Swimming in the Greatness of the Ordinary: A Review of Michael O'Briens's "Island of the World"
From Saint to Saint to Saint

Thanatopsis

On October 15th, my mother died after a long bout with Parkinson's Disease.  She was 84.  I miss her.

I miss a lot of things.  I miss the ins and outs of my childhood, the home I grew up in, my father, my cat Pumpkin,  and my dog Faith.  I miss a world without cell phones, the internet, and cable tv which, despite the good they bring also bring so much that is destructive and distracting.  I have no love for nostalgia, for a time that I know to be somewhat illusory in memory,  yet what I really miss is my mother in that time, in a  time when she was there and all was right and the world was under her care.

A few days ago, coming home from a time with family, I passed by the exit to the hospice where she spent her last eight days of life.  I was overcome with sadness borne of what I think is really a lingering homelessness.  Though my mother had declined to the point where two-way conversation was not possible, she was still present in body.  There was always a place for me to go, a person to see, a reminder of the home I once had.  Though I long ago made a new home with my wife and family, my mother still represented my childhood home, the last physical reminder of that home.  Now, I really can't go home.

Francis Schaeffer once wrote (and no doubt many times spoke) of the world as we know it being abnormal.  It is not what it was intended to be.  Death is not normal.  My lingering homelessness is not normal.  When you are confronted by death, then like no other time you realize the contrast between what was intended by God and what is.  Loss is now part of our life.  The curse of sin, like a relentless entropy, is winding down the world.

And yet, thank God, it doesn't end there.  When my mother died believing in Christ, I sensed a new reality, one in which she is literally living on right now in the presence of Christ.  What I have assented to in my mind for many years I now assented to in heart.  And if she lives, then there is deeper magic at work in the world, one undoing the curse of sin and ultimately reversing death itself.

In some moments over the last year I allowed myself to think that all my mother did and thought, all the books she read, Bible study notes she took, dreams she had, and letters she wrote were all lost, would go to the grave with her.  They are not lost.  Every single thing she did mattered.  Not only is it part of her legacy but also a part of who she still is becoming. Nothing is lost but sin.  In Paradise she is only more of who she already had become.  There is no subtraction in death.

And yet still I miss her and what she represents.  I miss home.  I know something of what the Israelites felt in their Babylonian exile.  The Psalmist says that "[b]y the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion" (Ps. 137:1).  Whatever home they made in a foreign land, they longed for their true homeland.

Alien, stranger, sojourner, and exile --- so do I.  But my mother knows no homesickness or homelessness.  She's already Home.

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